Ecological Sensitivity Analysis of the Celtic Sea

Celtic Sea Sensitivity Analysis Published

The Marine Protected Area Advisory Committee has published their latest report Ecological Sensitivity Analysis of the Celtic Sea to inform future designation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). Commissioned by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage the report describes the scientific analysis “to provide rationales and recommendations for the identification of areas for potential designation as MPAs in the Celtic Sea, through processes that align with provisions set out in the forthcoming MPA legislation; and to provide data and analyses that can inform planning decisions on the potential siting of ORE infrastructure, taking account of stakeholder views, ecological features, conservation requirements and sectoral activity”.

The IWDG and other eNGOs were critical of the methodology employed in this report and in a similar report on the Irish Sea which preceded it in May 2023. Species which are protected by the Birds and Habitats Directives were excluded from the analysis, meaning that all cetacean and bird species were ignored. Many fish species provided for under the Common Fisheries Policy were also excluded. Whales, dolphins, seabirds and fish together represent multiple trophic levels and are intrinsically linked to the entire marine ecosystem, so the decision not to include them in an ecological sensitivity analysis is baffling and has not been explained to our satisfaction. The report itself notes in the conclusions and recommendations that “species protected in the Celtic Sea AOI by the EU Habitats and Birds Directives were not considered here as features but do need to be considered in combination with new MPA proposals as part of the future MPA process.”

The draft South Coast Maritime Designated Area Plan (DMAP) was published recently and the DMAP areas incorporated into this analysis. This demonstrates the opposite to a nature-first approach which was, ironically, taken in the DMAP site selection process. In an ideal world MPAs would have been designated prior any offshore renewable site selection.

Panel (A) shows identified areas of comparatively higher priority for potential protection for the selected ecological features (shades of green). Suitable areas for potential MPAs in the Celtic Sea could be selected from within these identified areas. Areas of lower priority for potential protection for the selected features are shown in white. Maritime areas currently proposed for ORE development in the Draft South Coast DMAP are outlined in blue.

The areas of comparatively higher priority for potential protection for the selected ecological features generated by the modelling process, called “summed solutions” are not to be taken as proposed MPAs, and only form part of the information which will inform the MPA selection process. The MPA Bill, which is the legislation driving this consideration of ecological sensitivity in the Celtic Sea, has yet to see the light of day having been delayed again. At this stage there is no possibility that it will be published before the Dáil summer recess and given the expected general election before the end of the year, the timeframe to get it published, debated and enacted in the lifetime of this Government is shrinking rapidly.

Read more: Ecological Sensitivity Analysis of the Celtic Sea